Sunday, August 29, 2010

A new post, a new creation...

Since my post-mat leave return to work I haven't had much time or energy for crafting or blogging. Luckily I had a special occasion today - one that demanded that I haul the sewing machine out of the basement. My awesome niece had her first birthday party - and you know how I cherish first birthdays!

I was having a hard time finding the perfect gift for the little gal. Her mom suggested a handmade doll, so I gave her a stack of my books on soft-toy making and asked her to mark her faves. She picked the funky bunnies with flower eyes by Portuguese dollmaker Rosa Pomar in Plush-O-Rama.

The fabric came from a huge stash that my sis bought on Kijiji ($40 for two big boxes), plus about $2 worth of trim and felt. There was no pattern so I just did my best approximation of the photograph in the book. I'm very particular about faces - they've gotta be A.C.A.P. (as cute as possible). On that front I got a lot of helpful advice from my husband/creative consultant. I'm quite pleased with the result. This is the biggest doll I've ever made. It's more than two feet tall, almost as big as the birthday girl!

BTW if you're looking for creative party ideas, my sis had a terrific idea for decorations/party favors. She posted an ad on Kijiji looking for someone who makes balloon animals and ordered a couple of dozen balloon flowers. They added some visual (and sonic) pop to the party and the kids were clamoring to take them home at the end of the festivities!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lovely and easy crafts for kids

My friend Nancy sent me this link.
She got it from her friend Alison.
And now I'm sharing it with you.

So simple, so beautiful and so fun!
Next time you're tempted to hit Toys R Us, back away from the car, and click here instead.

Or drive to Portland. There appears to be some kind of weird creativity-inducing bacteria in the water there.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A raw deal

Tuesday has become Sushi Day in my world. It all started with my BFF Irene, who works part-time, and always takes Tuesdays off. During my mat leave we would regularly meet at Bimi (at Grant and Kenaston, next to Stella's) for their 1/2 price sushi deal. It worked well, especially because they've got a tatami area that's comfy for kids. I could plop Baby Cheaperthan on a blanket or in her Bumbo and she'd happily hang out while we gorged ourselves on ngiri.

A few weeks ago Bimi launched an even better promotion - an all-you-can-eat sushi lunch for $15! You can order whatever you like from a huge menu including hot apps and fancy maki. Today I went with two gourmand friends and we stuffed ourselves with agedashi tofu, shrimp and scallop tempura, two caterpillar rolls, a rainbow roll, a dragon eye roll, a tiger roll and a pizza sushi. Must admit there was some belt-loosening happening towards the end of the meal. The rule at Bimi is that you have to pay full price for whatever food is left on your plate. It requires a certain amount of prescience (or restraint?) to order just the right amount of food. A word of advice: three appetizers and six huge deep-fried maki is more than enough for three people, even if one of them has a hollow leg.

If you want to try a simpler and quicker sushi lunch, check out Dae Gill on Madison. They offer an $8 takeout lunch special - two maki plus a drink or miso soup. Their sashimi is also pretty cheap, and comes in generous portions.

Sushi joints are busting out all over Winnipeg right now. What's your favorite sushi spot?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Give it up for Giveaway Weekend

It's way too cold and grey for gardening. Might as well spend some time cleaning out the basement and sorting stuff for Giveaway Weekend #2. That's right, on May 15 and 16 you are once again encouraged to dump your junk at the curb so that your neighbors can openly judge you. Kidding! Actually, I love Giveaway Weekend. Last time I cleared out several unwieldy bookshelves and four large boxes of tea lights which I realized I would never ever use. Everything got magicked away as if by elves driving minivans. You might want to keep your kids' bikes and wagons well within your property line though. I know at least one person who lost a tricycle last Giveaway Weekend. People are only supposed to take stuff on the curb marked "free" but a few takers clearly got overzealous.

If you have exceptionally useful junk, you might want to think about donating it to Centre Flavie Laurent. It's a charity founded by the Grey Nuns which distributes donated furniture, household items and clothing to people in need. Though it's been around for a while, I first heard of it recently, thanks to CBC News host Janet Stewart. She wrote a nice note about it on Facebook, of all places.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

First birthday fever

I promised myself I would not go overboard for Baby Cheaperthan's first birthday. I firmly believe that it is crazy to pour a ton of time, money and energy into a party for a kid who will remember exactly none of it. My plan was to invite our closest family to brunch at McNally Robinson. But then I thought, "It's a special occasion, we should invite the aunts and uncles and cousins." And then I thought, "We should invite our playdate friends who've made this such a great year." And then I thought, "I'll do a come-and-go cupcake party, how hard can that be?" And then I had a guest list of fifty, and I was officially infected with First Birthday Fever.

One sign that you have First Birthday Fever: you are tempted to do everything by hand. For one insane moment I did consider hand-making invitations. Luckily I thought better of it, and went instead to Kodak Gallery to order custom photo cards. Very cute, and if you pick them up at a local retailer (in my case, Best Buy) then you don't have to pay shipping.

I was also tempted to make a piñata shaped like a cupcake. Especially when I saw samples at All Things Cupcake online. But again reason prevailed, and the piñata idea was abandoned.

Good thing too. Turned out I needed some spare time for making actual cupcakes. Originally I was going to order them, but they're kinda pricey when you're ordering enough for fifty hungry guests. At Sweet Impressions on Tache and at the Cupcake Corner on Stradbook, custom cupcakes are $3 each. High Tea Bakery (a personal favorite) sells them for $2 each, or $23/dozen.

Once I decided I was going to make the cupcakes, all I had to do was learn how. Luckily I had my friend Sarah's Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, and a YouTube tutorial on how to ice a cupcake at my fingertips. Let me tell you, Helen Shroyer is my hero. At 1:30 a.m., I iced my last cupcake. I was covered in food coloring and my hands were aching but I was pretty pleased with the result (the display stand on loan from MAWA is a helpful touch).

Let me tell you, if you are going to ice cupcakes until the wee hours, it does help if you have a team of people taking care of other small party details like, say, food and party wear. Luckily a few people had my back. Grannie, Lola and Auntie E. set up a buffet feast and Auntie R. contributed the cutest cupcake dress in the world (a Small Potatoes creation). Most importantly of course Baby Cheaperthan had a great day (with no nap-deprived meltdowns, yay!). I know she won't remember it, but I definitely will. Thank goodness we have a year to relax until Birthday #2.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hey frugal foodies, recipes requested

I just stumbled upon an article headlined Eating Well on $50 a Week. Even though the story is over a year old, it's understandably one of the most read on the Maclean's website. I imagine a lot of people wish they could shrink their grocery bills (though I don't know how many would like to do it by dining on sardines and navy beans).

I for one love the feeling you get when the Safeway cashier enters your Club Card number and you watch all the discounts dropping off your bill. And then the numbers stop spinning and the cashier says, "You saved $23.18 today." It's kind of mesmerizing and rewarding, like playing a VLT.

Some months our food budget bobs perilously close to our mortgage payments. Not because we're foodies - on the contrary, our recipe repertoire is limited to about ten dishes....most of which involve chicken or fish. I had planned to ease us into vegetarianism, starting with Meatless Mondays, but I keep forgetting. If you've got recipes for fortifying dinners for two that cost less than $7.14 and don't involve pre-soaking legumes, please send them my way!

Friday, March 26, 2010

A cosy commercial and bargains for knitters

Knitters, it's time to have fun!

To begin, watch these two videos. My friend and avid knitter Steph W. sent them to me this week. First, one of the most tactile commercials I've ever seen. It's supposed to be selling natural gas, but really I think it's about the transformative power of knitting! The making-of video is equally charmant, oui oui.

Now that you're in the mood to knit, head to Ram Wools at Portage and Sherburn, for their anniversary sale. It's been a year since they moved to the new location, and everything in the store is 25% off! Time to stock up on yarn, books, needles, buttons, whatever you need for your next project. The sale runs 'til Wednesday, March 31 so you've got some time.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Thanks to you, Mr. Robinson

Today by chance I ran into the man who put the Robinson in McNally Robinson. Ron Robinson is always lovely to chat with about a myriad of topics - Fringe plays, Coronation Street, Eaton's, and of course books. Sounds like he has a serious case of hoarditis. His partner suggested that they buy the house across the street because their own is wall-to-wall books. "I always think of it as insulation," was Ron's defense. As a result, Ron has been on his own quest to monetize his literary assets. So I asked him for his suggestions of good spots to sell used books.

His first go-to spot is Bison Books, with the proviso that they don't always offer top dollar. He brought a book there a while back, and was offered $3 for it. He decided to hang on to it, as he was planning a trip to London, England. Once there, he walked into a shop on Cecil Court off Charing Cross Road and asked for their appraisal. The shopkeep eyed it. "First edition, The Tin Drum, good condition, I'll give you £30; for it." "Sold!" said Ron. (He originally paid 50p for it). He promptly donated his $60 CDN to CKUW, the campus and community radio station where he hosts the programs Pages (Thursdays at 5 p.m.) and The Saturday Morning Show (Saturdays at 6 a.m.)

His second go-to spot is Aqua Books, located in a former Chinese restaurant on Garry Street. One plus is that the owner, Kelly, will donate any books he doesn't buy to the Children's Hospital Book Market. So once you take your books to Aqua, you don't have to worry about the rejects languishing in the trunk of your car. After selling books there, Ron usually spends his proceeds on a tasty dessert from the cheerful in-store bistro, EAT!. That Ron Robinson is a wise, wise man.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

We've found heaven, and it has a bouncy castle

It's tough to find cheap indoor activities for under-fivers in this town. When both I and the baby were crawling the walls this winter, too often we had to pay for our escape from the Land of Stir Crazy. For playdates we've tried the Children's Museum (pricey at $7), the West Portage Y ($12 for a family of 4), and Bimi Sushi (half-price sushi on Mondays and Tuesdays). I know lots of people swear by the play areas at McDonald's or Indigo or St. Vital Centre. One friend takes her little guy to the play area at the airport, but of course you have to pay for parking. This city is in dire need of warm public space for toddlers.

This week (thanks to Brent!) we found Winnipeg's toddler and parent paradise: the Ride and Play program at Earl Grey Community Centre. The bright, open gym space is filled with ride-on toys (from radio flyers to scooters), a couple of play houses, the aforementioned bouncy castle, and a craft table. They've got train sets and building toys and for pre-crawlers, there are exersaucers and play mats. Alison the coordinator has thought of everything, including bins for toys that have been "slimed" and need to be disinfected. I think the only thing that could improve the Ride and Play is a couple of massage chairs for parents to sit in while on kid watch.

Admission is just $2 (not $3 as stated in the Free Press article). The drop-in program runs Tuesday and Thursday mornings and Wednesdays from 9:15-2:30 p.m., and every session ends with a grand finale involving clean-up music and balls and ribbons. Good times!